48 hours in Thessaloniki
Culture, Good Food and Shopping: a City Break that has it all!
Elegant and refined, the Greek ‘Lady of the North’ is a modern vivacious city which welcomes visitors eager to learn about its history and culture, and at the same time have fun, relax, go shopping or simply explore the cityscape by the sea. Thessaloniki boasts twenty three centuries of fascinating history evident in the monuments and its architecture, a history which has deeply influenced the local cuisine as well; and you can get a glimpse of it all even if you stay in the city only for a few hours.
Thessaloniki is the ideal destination if you’re in the mood for a weekend excursion or a three-day trip. Here are a few tips about how to make the most of your available time even if you can only spend a few hours there. Go shopping in the city centre, take a walk along the seafront and see Kastra [the Castle], enjoy your meal in busy local tavernas in the market area or along the old waterfront (Palia Paralia) and visit the city museums. Note that distances are short enough, so the time will be enough for you to see it all at an easy pace.
Take a stroll around
The locals and visitors’ favourite promenade is the one right next to the waterfront facing Thermaikos Gulf. Originally it stretched for 1.5km along the old beachfront (Palia Paralia), from the harbour to the White Tower (previously known as Tower of the Lion). Today, the promenade area covers 4km as it stretches along the New Beachfront (Nea Paralia) past Makedonia Palace Hotel, and up to Thessaloniki Concert Hall. A walk by the seafront early in the day or in the evening is nowadays even more enjoyable as the whole area has been reconstructed and new theme parks have been built along Nea Paralia, with fountains and impressive sculptures such as the eye-catching ‘Umbrellas’ by Zongolopoulos.
A walk in ‘Kastra’ [meaning Castle] has a charm of its own as the old fortified city walls stand intact along the old town perimeter; from this location, the city view is amazing. In the Old Town (the Upper part) you will see the traditional old houses, the Byzantine Bath house (the only one of its kind still standing), as well as some great cafés and restaurants with an old times atmosphere.
Thessaloniki is a great choice for your shopping. The main shopping streets are Tsimiski St. and Mitropoleos St. as well as all the streets crossing them. Visit also Aristotelous Sq. and Aristotelous St. where you will see street vendors selling their merchandise next to shops, cafés, ouzo tavernas and monuments. It’s also worth noting that the grand Aristotelous Square was designed by famous early 20th c. architect Ernest Hébrard, following the fire that almost burned the whole city down in 1917. Impressive buildings were then constructed on both sides of the square.
And if clothes and accessories are not the only items on your things-to-buy list, then a visit to Modiano and Kapani roofed arcades is recommended! It’s a fine way for you to experience old Thessaloniki. Once you’re there, you think that time has stopped as merchants and customers follow the old-fashioned traditional street market ways. These are the biggest market places in town where ample quantities, good prices and a large variety of goods are to be found. Apart from the shopping spree though, you can also enjoy a coffee break or a meal in the traditional tavernas here, in the old part of town.
Sample Food and Entertainment
Thessaloniki’s culinary tradition is something locals take very seriously. The city’s tavernas, restaurants and pastry shops have quite a reputation for their tasty dishes and creations. The old Ladadika district located by the town’s west gate used to be the heart of wholesale trade a good 40 years ago. Today this district is famed for the culinary delights offered in eateries and bars – some of them with live music – housed in the renovated old shops lining the brick-laid alleys of the area.
Recently built eating places are located in the vicinity of the Stock Exchange Square [Plateia Chrimatistiriou]; they line the narrow streets that cross or are parallel to Iasonidou St. and Ermou St. Here, you can taste mouthwatering local dishes or enjoy your drink in bars and night clubs until the wee hours.
Enjoy Culture and Art
Apart from local culinary delights, shopping and entertainment options, Thessaloniki is where you can go on a memorable cultural spree. It is a city boasting 35 museums and 12 galleries, and the numbers are impressive in proportion to the population. Contemporary art has had a home here since 1979, when Alexandros Iolas, a renowned Greek collector, has donated his collection of Andy Warhol, Max Ernst, Max Beckmann, Fluxus and other works of art to the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art.
Visit the Archaeological Museum, the singular Museum of Byzantine Culture, the modern White Tower Museum, the Archaeological Museum of the Ancient (Roman) Forum and the palace of Galerius, the Folklife & Ethnological Museum of Macedonia – Thrace, the impressive Byzantine churches of Agia Sofia and Agios Dimitrios, Alaca Imaret Mosque, Yeni Tzami [New Mosque], the spacious Eleftheria Square where the Jewish Holocaust Monument stands, the Arch of Galerius on Egnatia St. (a.k.a. Kamara).
Extra Tip: Take a couple of pictures by the statue of G. Zogolopoulos, "Umbrellas" by the new seashore!